The man known as the Seasoned Bandit was said by his defense attorney to be suffering from the “lottery curse.” The case of James Allen Hayes, 55, ended last week with a 33-month sentence and a requirement that he pay $39,424 to the 10 banks he’d robbed between April and September last year. Among them were four in Santa Barbara County.
Despite winning $19 million in 1998, Hayes was found living in a Ventura garage a month after law agents received a tip to his identity on September 13, 2017. Hayes had hit the jackpot in a Superlotto when he was 35, according to multiple media reports. After taxes and giving half to his wife in a divorce, he was left with a lump sum of $6 million. Hayes bought a Ferrari, which he wrecked, and the apartment building he’d bought — and subsequently sold but lived in — burned down in January 2017. By then, Hayes had had back surgery, become addicted to opiates, lost his health insurance, and turned to heroin, his attorney, Hilary Potashner, stated.
The Montecito Bank & Trust in Carpinteria is the first bank Hayes is believed to have robbed; in his plea bargain, he admitted to four of the 10 robberies, though the same man appears in all surveillance videos. The cameras in Carpinteria taped a heavyset, middle-aged white man wearing black, a ballcap, and sunglasses. The same man appears on tape next at the Union Bank in Carp on May 24, where he demanded, and received, $5,000, which he then used to buy a “light-colored PT Cruiser,” according to court filings. That car was identified in the next robbery, of a Wells Fargo in Santa Clarita on June 12, in which his teller note stated he had a gun and to “be quick.”
FBI investigator Ingerd Sotelo was able to zero in on Hayes after the tip came in, using data from a telecommunications search based on his address — the burned apartment building. The criminal complaint describes how the FBI had set up a license plate reader at a likely spot between the counties where the bank thefts were taking place. Sotelo located Hayes’s gold PT Cruiser at the Castaic intersection after he tried to hit the Wells Fargo in Newhall a second time, but left after he was recognized. She also learned Hayes owned 12 pistols and had applied to work as a security guard.
In all, Hayes made off with $39,424. Federal prosecutors asked for a 57-month sentence, considered on the low end of the sentencing scale, as Hayes had a clean record and had accepted responsibility for his thefts. That was balanced by the number of robberies, the threat of death because of the gun in the notes, and his drug addiction, Hayes must pay the money back to the banks, and his PT Cruiser is being sold as part of the restitution.
In addition to the Carpinteria banks, Hayes had also robbed the Golden 1 Credit Union in Goleta and the Coast Hills Credit Union in Santa Maria. Five banks in the Santa Clarita area were hit; the last was a Union Bank in Pacific Palisades on September 26.